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Prof. Graybill teaches undergraduate courses that are interdisciplinary and focused on the Arctic, Russia, and Eurasia. Prof Graybill's interdisciplinary background in human and environmental geography, geosciences, and cultural studies provide the background for lectures, discussions, and course assignments



This course addresses human rights in Russia and Eurasia. The course begins by comparing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the Soviet Union’s conceptualization of citizen rights and builds from there to understand current issues and concerns regarding rights in this world region. Part 1 provides an historical understanding of how human rights were envisioned and practiced in the Soviet era. Part 2 explores how human rights conceptualizations changed when the Soviet Union and Russia engaged openly with the West during perestroika and the 1990s. Parts 3 and 4 investigate the continuing legacy of authoritarianism in this region and what this suggests for individual (Part 3) and societal (Part 4) rights.

This course will be a mixture of lecture and discussion that assumes timely completion of readings and assignments to participate in small- and large-group class discussions throughout the semester. The final project asks students to develop a country profile to examine one human rights concern in one of the fifteen post-Soviet republics. Final student presentations will place human rights in Russia and Eurasia in historical, cultural, and spatial contexts to understand how they are linked by shared histories and enduring entangled futures.

Photo: Moscow August 2019, by J.K. Graybill


The Arctic is one of the most rapidly changing regions of the world today, environmentally, culturally and politically. Rapid biophysical change occurs here today due to climate change, but equally noteworthy are cultural, social and political transformations experienced by people living in the Arctic. Individuals and communities are under increasing pressure to change along with biophysical and socioeconomic transformation, particularly as new actors express interest in the Arctic and space opens up to global people and phenomena. Grappling with Arctic change means addressing complex issues related to social and biophysical changes, which often originate beyond the region but have specific meaning for the region.  Within Russian and Eurasian regional studies, interest in the Arctic is long standing and currently increasing with the “opening up” of this space due to climate change and the economic interest shown in it by Russia and other Asian neighbors (namely, China). In this course, we will examine environmental change, demographic shifts, human-environmental wellbeing, the ideas of security and cooperation as they relate to Arctic geopolitics, the future of the Arctic. While the exclusive focus of the course will not be on Russia, Russia’s role in Arctic transformations – especially politically and geographically – will be highlighted in relation to the actions and transformations occurring in other Arctic nations and other nations interested in Arctic transformations. Lectures, discussions, and a major research project related to these broad topics form the foundation for a deeper understanding of how Arctic spaces are transforming biophysically,

socioeconomically and culturally and how local Arctic places are linked to global phenomena.

Photo: Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, Iceland, 2017, by J.K. Graybill



In this course, we will visit the ancient oases of the Silk Road and the bustling modern cities that persist in these same sites along a new ‘silk road.’  Our purpose in visiting 5 of the fabulous cultural and natural sites of the Silk Road will be to analyze how the control of oil and water resources has shaped growth, prosperity, and their sustainability over time in these locations. Thus, we will examine how the ancient treatment of water resources sponsored the growth of trading kingdoms along the Silk Road.  Recent Empires and authoritarian nation-states in the region have dealt with water resources more profligately. On ES, we’ll take a camping trip deep into the Aral Sea bed, desiccated as a result of political competition over water.  Natural gas and oil are rich resources in both Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan; we will look at how these resources were treated religiously and then as fuel in the pre-modern world while emphasizing the key roles that oil and natural gas play in the modern economies of both countries. A half-credit course “Oil and Water” will develop the intellectual framework for examining Oil and Water in the past-and-present context of Silk Road oases.

Photo: Aral Sea, 2018, by J.K. Graybill

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Human-induced climate change is a defining issue of our time. That people are dramatically altering the climate is now the consensus in the global scientific community. Potential short- and long-term impacts include biodiversity loss, sea-level rise and coastal flooding, more intense storms, threats to human health, and disruptions of freshwater supplies and food security. But while the global community increasingly understands the basic processes driving climate change, and is starting to appreciate the consequences of a warmer world, the cultures (different societies, scientists, policymakers, to name a few) grappling with the dynamics of global warming are complex and the issue remains controversial and less well addressed, globally, than needed to stem dramatic climate change over the next century. Understanding climate-society relationships requires examining both the climatic effects of human activity as well as the cultural responses to addressing climate throughout history. This course examines climate change in cultural context in order to create engaged global citizens who grapple with the science and scientific uncertainty of climate change alongside the social, political, ethical, and economic matrix of society’s responses.

Photo: Follow the Leaders, by Isaac Cordal.


Russia’s physical and cultural territory stretches from the Arctic to deserts and from the European West to the Asian East. Tracing Russia’s cultural self-image and national identity through massive rebuilding and social engineering experiments, we will consider Russia’s distinctiveness; its place in the world; its collective struggles, successes, and failures; and how these are understood and contested by Russians themselves regionally and nationally. We will focus on socioeconomic, cultural and regional environmental transformation. Using multiple media and several texts, we will study interrelated issues and phenomena: traditionalism, multiculturalism, religion, kinship, economic structures and ideas, the environment, authoritarianism and utopianism.  
When appropriate, we will engage popular images of Russia in Western media and compare these with local perspectives.

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This is the century – if not the millennium – of urbanization. Half of the world’s population today lives in cities, and megacities are rising and growing worldwide. Urban populations are increasing in places traditionally considered “rural,” such as in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Rapid and increasing global urbanization creates new understandings of the relationships between urban and rural regions, and a globalizing world blurs the boundaries between many categories often considered static (such as rural or urban regions; nation-states; and West, East or Global South). Almost paradoxically, urban centers are even more important in the era of globalization, as they are considered “control centers” for transnational processes and lives. Many of the world’s urban landscapes have been developed under authoritarian regimes, creating certain visual, temporal and spatial legacies for the urban landscape. We will focus on understanding authoritarianism in the past and in global regions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We will explore how these built environments strongly shape urban character, new urban development and demographic change in these places, while also placing cities in these regions in economic and geopolitical context. Specifically, we will investigate the following topics:  What are the critical questions to ask about urban landscapes today? What are the ways in which different social groups make claims to space and place, and what are the scales at which these activities occur?

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